With the weather looking fairly reasonable today we decided to head out and tackle a series of caches in Shenley. I suppose to start with I should tell you a little about Shenley to set the scene and create some ambience as it were. All I can tell you is that there used to be a loony bin there, and I have checked, that is the politically correct term. Oh alright, hang on, I’ll go and do some research.
Right, Shenley dates back at least a thousand years and is mentioned in the doomsday book. It is located in Hertfordshire between Barnet and St. Albans and is approximately 18km from central London. Not bad eh… learning things yeah? Here’s some more. The land was heavily wooded back in the olden days and it became the site of estates as it was close to London but without the smell and the bad air of the capital. Ummm, it was sold off by someone Raffles back at the turn of the century and Middlesex Council bought it and built 2 Loony bins there. The area was later heavily redeveloped and after the hospitals were closed housing estates built and Shenley Park was improved preserving some of the original features of the mansion and its grounds. Our series would take us to the very same Shenley Park. How is that for relevance? Get in there!
As we drove to the suggested parking area I noticed that we were going up quite a few hills and I hoped that we would stay on top and not have to do daft things like going up and down hills all the time. According to my 30 second research Shenley is something like the 8th highest parish in Hertfordshire… not including the land around St. Albans. As to why the hell the land around St Albans would be excluded from that statistic, your guess is as good as mine and I wouldn’t let it bother you too much; the quiz at the end has no questions about the elevation of the land.
There were 11 caches in the series today with a bonus cache if we managed to collect enough of the clues stashed in the other 11 hides. Sam, Shar and I set off from the car in good spirits and with a spring in our step. Our phones told us that the first cache was less than 100m from our parking spot so the game was well and truly afoot as Sherlock would say. Into the park and the first cache was an easy find… the title was “Fallen Giant” and our rapidly developing cache sense led us all to the conclusion that we were looking for a fallen tree. Bingo, easy peasy and Tupperware box number one was in hand. Log book signed and clue retrieved… it looked like these clues were all going to be small pictures of feature film DVD covers. I won’t give too much away so as not to spoil the fun for others and if you are a geocacher reading this hoping to get a load of spoilers then shame on you…there won’t be many. Lol.
Number two took us further into the park and if I tell you the name of the cache was “Where the Trolls live” you don’t have to be a genius to work out where we ended up next. I stayed on the bridge as look out whilst Sam and Shar acted like trolls. A nice sized box was retrieved and I took the opportunity to drop off a monkey Travel Bug that I had been carrying around since our adventures in Mill Hill recently. With muggles fast approaching the bridge it was a quick sign of the log, retrieve the clue and clamber up and away. Two for two… this was going well.
Number 3 led us to the chapel and I assume this was the chapel originally located on the estate of old… oh hang on… Nope I was talking crap there. It was built at the time the Hospital was erected to serve as a multi donominational place of worship for the patients. Well it is Sunday, so searching for a cache very close to a chapel on Sunday is a dumb idea if ever there was one. However not being ones to go with the flow, we dug into the bushes and searched the likely locations that presented themselves in the form of a Salt bin. 10 minutes later and a lot of strange glances from those with a religious bent and we were without our box. If you have ever geocached you will know all too well that feeling of trying to decide when enough is enough and you probably will never find it. This is how the process normally pans out.
1. Having read the name of the cache and followed the GPS to within 10 metres you then start scouting likely hides.
2. As you get to GZ you abandon the GPS and dive for the most likely spot and start searching.
3. You don’t find it within 20 seconds so you start widening your search.
4. When you still can’t find it you check to see if there is a hint.
5. Still no joy and you suggest that someone in the group could read some past logs to see if any clues can be gleaned. Everyone wants to find it so everyone is torn between carrying on looking and stopping to read the logs.
6. Someone reads the logs and either learns something and slopes off to a slightly different spot based on information learnt to look before the others clock on, or they discover that others had problems finding it too.
7. By this time you are starting to suspect that you are in the wrong place or the cache has been muggled and is now missing. You step back and get out your GPS again and see if it will point you somewhere else.
8. By this time at least one member of the group has mentally thrown in the towel and is having a sit down or a drink of water whilst the die-hard is still rustling around in the bushes.
9. As the person in the bushes you finally decide that enough is enough and you aren’t going to find it… so you carry on searching for another couple of minutes just to try and prove yourself wrong.
10. Finally you come out of the bushes and re-join the group and declare that the thing must have been muggled because “it is not in there!” One of two things happen then. Either someone else finds it at that exact moment making you feel both elated and miffed for having missed it, or you chalk up a DNF and move on.
So we had to log a DNF on number 3 and reluctantly moved on to number four. One DNF is generally not too disheartening. When you are doing a series with a bonus if the cache owner (CO) has been considerate they will have duplicated the clues in a number of the caches so that if you fail to find one or two then you can still assembgle enough clues to find the bonus. It is when you start logging 2 or 3 or more DNFs on a series that the morale starts flagging big time.
Number 4 led us to a strange thing indeed. Described as a farming sculpture hidden in a little corner of the park. I know not what a farming sculpture is or how to explain what we found to you. Other than it was rusty, metal and rapidly being consumed by the bushes. Sam searched and did not find, I searched and did not find and as I was staggering out of the bush after receiving the warning that we were about to be muggled Sharlene plucked the cache from its hiding place.
As we left the site of cache number 4 we headed through the orchard of the old hospital and it was as Sam was pulling the next container from the V of a tree that the first gunshot was heard. It is interesting that a lot of places seem to be planting fruit trees these days. In areas of public recreation the trend seems to be to grow these trees that produce apples and plums and the like. I don’t think the fruit they bear is of a particular edible quality but I suspect that it is more for the wildlife than the people. Having read ahead at the description for cache number 6 I was looking forward to the prospect of some excellent views of the surrounding areas. But I know what you are thinking, get back to the point. Stop trying to distract us from what you just said. OK, OK. In the orchard there are over 450 apple trees of some 120 different varieties. Interestingly the Trust that manages the park actually uses the apples to make apple juice that it sells in the café. Approximately 3000 litres of juice are produced by the trust each years from apples from this and other orchards that the trust manage. Back in the 1930s when the Hospital was built the orchard was an essential source of fruit for the patients and it was indeed those patients that picked the fruit. Apparently in the 70s and 80s it was considered inappropriate for nutters to be expected to pick their own fruit and the orchard fell into a state of misuse… disuse… unusedness…. Non using ness…. Or something like that.
Oh you want to know about the gunshot?
Well why didn’t you say?
As Sam retrieved the cache from the tree the first shot rang out from beyond the fence a short distance away. Sharlene instinctively let in front of Sam but his reactions being what they were he had already dived to the ground, rolled forwards and was now in a prone position with his stick pointing in the direction of the gunshot. I had not just stood there… oh no… I was already 50 yards to the left when the sound hit the ears of Shar and Sam. I had flanked their position and was preparing to make a daring assault on the firing position when I got stung on the hand by a stinging nettle and had to whimper for a bit.
At least that was how it played out in my mind. After a few short seconds I realised it was just an air rifle and we got back to signing the log and moving on to the next cache. Interesting that bit about the apples though wasn’t it?
Cache number six was quickly found and the log signed and then we sat on the handy bench nearby and enjoyed the aforementioned views. Looking in a north westerly direction the vista was expansive and impressive. I know what you are thinking. How can I give a monkey’s cuss about a view? I can’t see it so why do I like them. Well my sight is rubbish, but I can see a little. Shapes and blurriness of different intensities are what I get all day and every day and when you suddenly are presented with an enormous openness broken up by only small patches of blurry shapes it is enjoyable. I get a sense of scale… a sense of seeing something in great amounts. My vision instead of being a clutter of tiny blurry shapes that all blend into a mishmash of this and that, is now simpler… more defined and on a much larger and inspiring scale. If you put me in front of a busy and colourful flower garden I will get more from the smell of the flowers than my limited vision because there is far too much information to process. But if you stand me before a spectacular view of open countryside I only need to recognize the scale and basic shapes of the land and large features such as a treeline or a body of water and I can enjoy it greatly. It would be easier for me to see and enjoy the great pyramids of Egypt from a distance than it would to be presented with a most stunningly beautiful piece of fine art 10 feet away from me.
Back on the bench on the hill top and it was time to break out the apples and Haribo whilst enjoying the view and the echoes of the Crimean war occurring back towards cache number 5. You know when you just feel you want to do something silly… if you don’t know the feeling then I encourage you to embrace it and give in to it every now and then. On this particular occasion at the sound of one of the gunshot I cried out loud and long as if I had been shot which made Sam howl with laughter which is always a nice feeling.
Whilst sitting on the bench I educated Sam and Shar as to the importance of Shenley in the Mushroom growing world , as to how in the 15th Century it had been here that the rarest mushrooms could be found and were much sought after. I then confessed that I had just made that all up and Sharlene pushed me off the bench!
Much refreshed we returned to the trail and collected cache number 7 with ease. A very ingenious type of cache this one and one that we have seen a few times now involving a clever mechanism to retrieve the container from a very high location without the need for either a human pyramid or rocket boots. Again no specific spoilers other than to say it was a pulley system attached to a tree. Oh wait… that is a bit of a spoiler isn’t it. OK, look it was definitely not a pulley system attached to a tree that allowed us to get the cache…. Got that? Good!
Alas number 8 was to be a DNF for us again as at GZ it was evident that there had been a lot of ground clearing going on and the expected site of the hide was in disarray. Now I was a little worried that if we had anymore DNFs we might not get enough info for the bonus cache.
Thankfully the last 3 caches were all there and all duly found and logged. Amongst them was an interesting magnetic cache that is so covert that you could have it in front of your face and you probably wouldn’t see it for what it was unless you knew it was there. Luckily we had seen one like this before and peeled it off the hide with no problems. Also amongst the three was a nice little one in the corner of an alley that was basically on a string and slung over a fence. I had no idea what was on the other side of the fence and frankly didn’t care.
With all caches found bar 2 we were done and we dialled in the coordinates of the car park where we started so we could regroup and try and work out the location of the bonus cache. Funny thing about caching sometimes is that you are so constantly focussed on what is in the short distance in front of you that you often don’t take in your wider surroundings. If we had stopped to look around as we approached the last cache we would have noticed that it took us right past the side of the car park and the 5 minutes we wasted setting up the coordinates of the car park to round the corner and go, “Oh there it is”, could have been much better employed.si”
Back at the car and without paper Sharlene took to writing numbers on her hand to work out the location of the bonus cache. It is a good job we didn’t get Sam to do it otherwise we would have run out of hand. Thankfully we had retrieved all the needed clues and with a bit of simple maths we dialled the coordinates for the bonus into Shar’s phone and off we trotted. Apparently the bonus was only 200 metres from the car. On the way to the bonus we passed a most bizarre sight. On the corner of two roads was a little cottage called the gingerbread cottage. It was truly cute with a white picket fence around it and all brightly painted etc. It was obviously built to resemble the gingerbread cottage from the story, the one that was made of lovely gingerbread and marzipan and all those sweets…. The building was now being used as…. A dentist surgery!!!! You couldn’t write this stuff could you? Well I just did but you know what I mean.
At GZ for the bonus we found a likely hiding place and it was well guarded by the mother of all spiders and a lot of nettles. I, not being able to see either, dived in much to the cringes of Sharlene and Sam . I got stung all over my hands but thankfully the spider kept itself to itself, good job for it too otherwise Sharlene would have whipped of the trainer of doom and put its lungs through its face. After a bit of rummaging around and a bit of stinging pain I retrieved the cache and dropped off another Travel bug to travel the world… or at least Hertfordshire…. And there was much rejoicing.
In summary, Shenley was fun with no loonies anymore, lots of apples and only a handful of gunshots. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable geocaching adventure.